Ipswich and Colchester hospitals merger chance to ‘press the reset button’
- Credit: GEMMA MITCHELL
Patients at the combined Ipswich and Colchester hospitals will be able to use technology such as mobile phone apps to “self-service” their care plans.
The full business case for the proposed merger of the two trusts has today been published and promises to find innovative ways to make treatment easier and faster to access.
The joint organisation will be called East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, it has been confirmed.
Board members will decide whether to approve the final blueprint during an extraordinary meeting in public at Ipswich Corn Exchange on March 29.
It would then need the green light from national NHS teams and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt before the move can go ahead.
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The merger could take place as early as July this year, creating the biggest NHS trust in East Anglia which will employ nearly 10,000 staff to look after more than 750,000 people.
Nick Hulme and Dr Barbara Buckley, the trusts’ joint chief executive and medical director respectively, briefed this newspaper on the document last night.
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“We are promising to shift our focus onto the way we value time in healthcare,” Mr Hulme said. “The unnecessary stress that we add to those who are already burdened by ill health is simply unacceptable. Delays in treatment, long waits sitting around in outpatient clinics and patients unable to plan their lives because of our poor organisation will become a thing of the past as we deliver the vision we have set out.”
Mr Hulme said there were plans to work in partnership with universities to develop an app for the hospitals so patients could “self mange their pathway through the organisation”.
The merger offers a chance for the hospitals to “push the reset button” and bring services in line with modern day health needs, Mr Hulme said.
Under the new system, clinical services will fully integrate, with only emergency departments, urgent medical care and maternity guaranteed to remain at both sites.
Dr Buckley said: “This merger is not based on any plans to move services from one hospital to the other. In the future, our doctors may want to change some services to improve them, but we would consult the public fully on any such proposals.”
If any services are centralised, patient transport would be taken into consideration as part of the decision.
Mr Hulme revealed hopes of obtaining capital funding to overhaul Colchester A&E, which is “not fit for purpose”, and improve diagnostic services at Ipswich.
He said Colchester and Ipswich might also look at separating their elective and nonelective work within both hospital sites in order to “reduce cancellations, increase productivity and efficiency, and improve clinical outcomes”.
Bosses hope the merger will enable the hospitals to offer more specialist care locally to prevent people from east Suffolk and north Essex having to travel to further afield.
Under NHS rules, services have to be used by a certain number of patients in order to be delivered by trusts so specialists maintain up-to-date skills and knowledge.
Mr Hulme said Ipswich and Colchester would be at risk of losing some services, such as radiotherapy, if they stayed separate.
Patients are already travelling between the two sites for certain procedures, Dr Buckley said. Spinal surgery is centralised at Ipswich, and vascular operations at Colchester.
Mr Hulme said he could not guarantee no redundancies under the new system, but the first route would always be “natural wastage”.
“There will be increased scrutiny of when staff leave to see whether we need to replace that for a like for like post,” he added.
“I can’t envisage that there will be any redundancies of clinical staff, but I think we will be asking and challenging clinical staff to think and work differently, because we know the status quo will not deliver the care that you want for families.”
Dr Buckley said there were ambitions to carry out more research at the hospitals, with every patient offered the chance to enter a clinical trial.
The move is expected to see the hospitals break even financially within five years by saving £22million in running costs.
Mr Hulme said the merger process had cost less than £1million – significantly less than other organisations – by utilising the expertise of existing staff.